Day 1 of Coachella started off with the Sleigh Bells. A boy/girl electro-punk act that takes all of the brattiness of the Ting Tings, and drops a dirty south beat and electric guitar into the mix. Upon a first listen, Sleigh Bells could be written off as a knock-off of 20 other bands that takes boy/girl indie rock template and rehashes some well-worn territory. The biggest difference between this act being a cliche, and being something different is how they do it.
The live show was something of a high-energy event, blending driving beats and feedback-heavy guitar to a sweaty throng of festival revelers. Not exactly a game changer for music, but a fun time and a great way to get the festival started.
(The Sleigh Bells)
She and Him
M-Ward and Zooey Deschanel's 60's throwback pop music is great for listening to while not actively listening. There's something that is so instantly familiar when you hear it, that it's as if the music that's always been there. There's a certain shimmer to what these two produce. It's deceptively simple, until you realize how well thought out the music really is. It's methodically engineered to make you like it, which is no simple task
The problem which She and Him, it that's it simply doesn't translate live. Zooey Deschanel's delivery was lack-luster at best. All of the charisma and charm that she radiates as an actress simply doesn't work when she's the focal point for a band. While I'm sure that Mrs. Gibbard will continue to produce well-crafted pop songs with M-Ward, the band's live performance is it's not strong point.
One of the highlights of the day was seeing The Specials. In a year where iconic bands seem to be dusting off their long-dead monikers, and are taking their acts on the road, the announcement of The Specials reunion tour was something I was very much looking forward to. There are many bands that are reunited that simply shouldn't have. (I'm talking to you, The Who) Fortunately, The Specials were not one of these bands. Their performance was amazing. They prowled around the stage like kids half their age, they had complete control of their instruments and ultimately were one of the highlights of the day.
Gill-Scott Heron is an icon. For those of you only know him from his shout-out on "Losing My Edge" from LCD Soundsystem, do yourself a favor and find out more. It can be argued that GSH's spoken-word delivery in his music from the 70's and 80's laid the ground work for Hip-Hop, and his politically-charged lyrics made some dub him the "black Bob Dylan," but that simply does not do him justice.
Live, he sat down at the keyboard and proceeded to go to work. His somewhat improvisational set was an experience in soulful force. It's rare at these festivals that there are meditative moments, but GSH's performance did just that. Many of bands on the festival roster could take notes on how an excellent performance is executed from this elder statesman.
With the announcement on the DFA website that LCD Soundsystem was going to break-up, and that they were playing the main stage at Coachella, it was big news. Their performance was a fantastic run through their self-described "dance-punk," with James Murphy making sometimes rambling announcements in between songs. I question the logic of whoever made that decision of the band's performance slot right before Jay Z. I managed to work my way to the front of the stage, and overheard a number of folks who only knew of a few LCD tracks, and I even had one "indie bro" (more about this later, it's too funny) ask me if this was going to be a DJ set...sad.
(James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem)
Public Image Limited
In anther move this year that co-opted my formative years and brought back some of the icons that blazed a trail in the alt music world, Public Image Limited has reformed. With this year's Coachella line-up in "throw-back" mode, it was really no surprise to see PIL on the roster. The band's performance was everything you'd expect from a band who's peak was almost 30 years ago. They performed a very solid set, and it's really interesting to hear one of the originators of "dance-punk" (and punk itself, in regards to Johnny Rotten). The bass player, dropped the signature dub bass lines (Jah Wobble was a no-show for the reunion), while Johnny belted out the lyrics and gave his best scowl, but something in the performance was a bit off.
While I was completely in awe of having the chance to see this legendary band perform, I was primarily interested in seeing Johnny Rotten singing on stage, so I could check it off my musical "bucket list." At the end of the day, punk rock does not age gracefully. It was a bit sad to see an iconic figure like Johnny Rotten using a music stand to hold his lyrics and referring to it periodically during the show. Along with the posturing and snide comments, it seemed as if Johnny Rotten has become a parody of himself. With the passing of Malcom McLaren, and with the echo of 1970's punk and new wave becoming more and more faint as new bands and reinvent and evolve the sound, it seems like the baton has long since been passed. Some might say that PIL coming out of retirement was nothing more than a money-making play, the new "Rock and Roll Swindle." For the band's sake, I hope it it.
Jay-Z played. It was awesome. Beyonce made a guest appearance. There was fireworks.